Part 6 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.

For all Ryan Pace’s hits — and misses — in his three seasons as the Bears’ general manager, no position has fared better than defensive line.

Defensive end Akiem Hicks, signed in 2016 and then given a lucrative extension on the eve of last season’s opener, has been Pace’s best get in free agency.

Short of running back Jordan Howard — who Pace stole with a fifth-round pick — perhaps none of his draft selections have been more consistently productive than nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who went No. 39 overall in 2015.

If Pace is able to sign Goldman to a contract extension before the final year of his rookie deal — the Bears are trying — he could have two stellar talents locked up for the next four years, when Hicks’ deal expires.

The Bears, of course, have three starting defensive line positions.

Their interest in drafting someone to develop alongside Hicks and Goldman depends on how vital they view that third spot to be. The Bears typically rotate defensive linemen, lessening the need for an every-down end opposite Hicks, who played about 85 percent of the team’s snaps last year. In nickel and dime packages, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio often replaces an end with a linebacker in hopes of creating pass-rush mismatches.

The Bears never settled on an end to start alongside Hicks last year. Jonathan Bullard, who Pace drafted in the third round in 2016, played 40 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps, veteran Mitch Unrein 37 percent and former undrafted free agent Roy Robertson-Harris 20 percent. At the end of the season, Pace singled out Bullard and Robertson-Harris as players who made significant leaps during the year.

Perhaps as a result, the Bears didn’t add anyone to replace …read more

Source:: Chicago Sun-Times – Sports


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